When Supermodel featured in NZM’s August/Sept 2011 issue songwriter/singer/frontman Mark Hanify candidly explained the covers act genesis and epic sound of his Wellington band, finishing rather more enigmatically with, “I have a few crazy ideas I want to try out later in the year, but I’ll keep them under wraps for now.” While we can’t be certain, we’re hazarding a guess that it may have been his secret plan to engage former Queen (et al) producer Reinhold Mack for their next album. Crazy huh?
Sure Supermodel were remarkably Queen-like in places on their debut album ‘To The Mountains’, but why would the famous German producer want to play Stars In Their Eyes with a still-fledgling Kiwi band? Candidly (we can be candid here can’t we?) when the new Supermodel album ‘Rimu & Roses’ first played in NZM’s office we were floored. There’s no other way to say it than to fess up and say that between phone calls and email traffic it sounded just like a ‘new’ Queen album, to the point of being a little unsettling. We asked Freddie, sorry, Mark Hanify (that’s him in the yellow suit) to talk us through the album’s evolution and some of the songs – which he very generously did.
Being a big fan of Queen, it has always been a dream of mine to work with a producer like Reinhold Mack, who is not only responsible for producing some of history’s biggest bands, including Queen, David Bowie, ELO and The Rolling Stones, but is also someone who understands how to bring songs to life with his wealth of knowledge, experience, wisdom and creative flair.
After spending around 40 days, between touring and working, over the period of a year, flying back and forth from Wellington to Christchurch to lay down the bones of our new record ‘Rimu & Roses’ at Quicksand Recording Studios, I got in touch with Mack via email in June 2013, thinking that chances of getting a reply were slim – but on this occasion the stars aligned!
Luckily for us, Mack was impressed with the rough mixes I sent him, so we arranged to meet, online. I was nervous Skyping him for the first couple of sessions but he put me at ease with his laidback nature, sense of humour and inspiring stories about what some of the greats got up to in the studio. But that’s all off the record… ha! Of course, we also chatted about the songs and how we could make them better, punchier and more edgy than our debut record ‘To The Mountains’.
As the only songwriter on the album, I wanted to experiment with different styles. We are not a ‘sound band’, we make arrangements that suit the song, so before we had even hit the record button we spent a good amount of time making sure the songs/structures were just what we were after. Our engineer Thom O’Connor was a great sounding board to bounce ideas off as some songs were written on the fly in the studio. Thanks Thom!
Like Queen or The Beatles, this album has turned out to be a real mix of writing styles – from acoustic ballads to edgier rock tracks. Our personality runs throughout the album but Mack’s expertise has taken the record to a whole new level, bringing the songs to life, helping the flow and making everything clear and upfront. I wanted the album to sound loud at a low volume, which Mack nailed, not to mention brilliant mastering by Eroc at EMR/Breckerfield.
Working with a true legend has been a real godsend. Life as a musician can be a lot of hard work with not much reward, but occasionally, when gems come your way, it becomes all worthwhile. Freddie Mercury wasn’t lying when he called Mack a ‘genius’. I hope to work with him again in the near future. I couldn’t be happier with the new album!
Rimu & Roses
The title track for the album pays homage to my upbringing and is heavily influenced by my granddad, an incredible pianist who played by ear. His knowledge of show tunes from the golden age of music, with unforgettable melodies and arrangements, had a huge effect on me growing up. The title has many levels of meaning to me.
1: Rimu trees (my favourite) symbolise NZ (the new country) and roses symbolise England (the old country), representing my love for bands from the motherland and of course love/romance.
2: My wife and I were planning to move to London to pursue our careers as musicians, which didn’t quite work out as planned. So we were unclear of our paths for a while, ‘caught in between the red and the green, Rimu & Roses sway’ – whatever happens, life goes on. We ended up swaying towards the green.
Praying For Signs
This prog rock track, which evolved out of two guitar riffs (intro and chorus), lyrically talks about the yearning for truth of purpose in a murky sea of religions, cults, conspiracy theories and science that don’t give us the answers.
The intro was inspired by Queen’s early ’70s material and yet the chorus sounds quite like some of Queen’s ’80s stuff. Mack did a great job of this track by glueing all the parts together and making the piano sound like it’s underwater. Probably one of the hardest tracks to play live but luckily we have Tony Kemp, the most solid rock drummer in NZ.
Was written on the piano as more of a Roy Orbison song played at half the speed of the final cut. It wasn’t until I recorded the song on ProTools and added electronic drums, that it suddenly turned into an upbeat, dancey number. The bridge swings into a 6/8 merry go round circus thing, which Mack managed to capture really well through my artistic ramblings on Skype!
A few years back, 20/20 or 60 Minutes ran a story on American men who lived with life-sized dolls that they treat like human beings. I already had the title Candy Rose in my head and I thought it was a perfect lyric match.
This is the first single off the album. Mack really brought a new life to this song by adding reverse snare, guitars through a Leslie speaker, and rearranging the group shouting in the song by copy/pasting it into different sections like the intro and end. Although this germinated from guitar riffs, the song progresses into some classical trickery with harmonies to boot. The lyrics are a David and Goliath battle between government and civilians with a parallel theme of our trial for something greater on earth.
Fly By Night
This started as a high-pitched descending major scale on the guitar sent through a Digitech Whammy and delay effects that inspired a melody. Think Blondie meets Goldenhorse! This all happened very quickly in the studio and I knew that Rose would have to sing on this one.
Tony had been and gone to do his drum tracks by this stage, so we fired up a drum machine, got the bones of the track down, and Rose learnt the song as she sang it. I was really happy with the results. Highlights for me are the guitar solo/bridge section and of course the one and only Rose Hanify on vocals.
Hearing The Music
Lying in bed late at night in silence can be a very creative time. Sometimes I can close my eyes and music starts to stream in. Once the live stream has finished, I’ll grab my phone and sing/whistle/tap until I know that I won’t forget the idea by morning. This is how the chorus was created.
My mother Ella Hanify is one of six musical sisters who all sang show tunes and old pop songs together at parties and events, which I was lucky enough to witness growing up. The chorus for this is a nod and a thank you to them for the music. Plus, I was listening to a lot of Travelling Wilburys at the time, which influenced the verse, and somehow the two ideas (verse/chorus) fused together.
Having worked with Jeff Lynne a lot, I think Mack knew what was going on with this song and he mixed it beautifully. For the tech geeks; there is an iPad app called Polychord which features in the song and replicates an Omnichord.
I was watching the movie Cold Mountain around 10 years ago. It’s about a wounded soldier who embarks on a journey home to his sweetheart with a lot of struggle along the way. Afterwards, feeling inspired, I grabbed the nylon string and played a bluegrass/country song on with very simple chords. Fast forward 10 years and it had developed into a Paul McCartney-esque ditty with a walking bass line.
‘I’ve tried all my luck here, I’ve played all my cards. I’ve followed my head to shield my heart.’ The song is about moving on in the search for greener pastures and looking for guidance from the Universal Spirit or Holy Ghost, which the white feather is a symbol of. A really hard song to play but one of my personal favourites on the album.
Tony and I played duelling snares on this avant-garde haunting march. There are trumpets, organ swells, Digitech Whammy arpeggiations, chains, ripping paper, shaking jellybeans in a bowl, to name a few of the sounds featured in this track. The lyrics are filled with themes of marching to your own tune in life and that this should be taught by our teachers/mentors. I imagined little stick creatures from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas marching along which probably had something to do with the dark melody. The solo is played with an eBow.
Weighing Me Down
A 6/8 number which is the final full-length track on the album. Michael White did some kick ass bass playing on this melancholic anthem and Mack added some real finesse to the production by manipulating harmonies into ghost-like echoes that will (hopefully) send shivers up the spine. I summoned my inner Freddie Mercury on this emotional song, and that leads me to the outro…
Rimu & Roses
‘So there’s our show, the curtains are closed. Rimu and Roses fades…’
Like the intro, Rimu & Roses plays but this time without the gramophone effect and a few ‘tongue in cheek’ lyrics. Next, the album builds into a catastrophe of sounds like The Beatles’ A Day In The Life, which Mack went to town with. It includes the album’s songs appearing in and out of phase and a drum solo from Mr Tony Kemp whilst a broken record type vocal sings ‘get the wrong side of me’.